Migration Program planning levels are only one factor in how many people migrate to Australia each year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics measures net overseas migration (NOM). NOM is the difference between people arriving in Australia and people departing from Australia. Migrant arrivals to Australia are counted in NOM if they are in Australia for a total of 12 months or more during a 16-month period. Therefore, this counts people who arrive on a permanent visa, but also those who arrive on a temporary visa and stay for a year or more, for example to study or work.
In 2018–19, prior to the pandemic, NOM was 241,300. In 2020–21, it was -88,800, that is, more people left Australia than arrived. The 2022–23 Budget (p. 114) projects that NOM will return to near pre-pandemic levels (around 235,000) in 2024–25. For further information, see the Budget review Immigration article and the article ‘Australia’s population: recent changes’ in this Briefing book.
Usually, around half of permanent visas are granted to people already in Australia on temporary visas. This proportion increased during the pandemic to 67.5% in 2020–21 (p. 3). Given the permanent Migration Program levels of 160,000 per year and that many of these visas will be granted to people already in Australia, it is evident that temporary migration is projected to make up a significant proportion of NOM.
While most temporary visa holders will leave Australia at some point, others may transition through several temporary visas before obtaining a permanent visa, or they may remain in Australia on temporary visas without ever obtaining a permanent visa. In most cases, a temporary visa holder must meet the criteria for a permanent visa in the same way as any other applicant. However, some temporary visas place limits on applying for a subsequent visa.
For example, the short-term stream of the Temporary Skill Shortage visa allows only one subsequent application for another TSS visa. The TSS (subclass 482) visa replaced the subclass 457 visa in March 2018. The Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s report on Australia’s skilled migration program recommended changing the short-term TSS to allow a pathway to permanent residence, stating that ‘All employer nominated visas should provide the option of a pathway to permanency’ provided that requirements, such as skills, age and English language levels, are met (p. 42). Stakeholders, including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also recommended implementing a pathway for all temporary skilled migrants. The ALP has indicated it would support this (see for example pages 103–108 of the committee’s report).
New Zealand citizens living in Australia are a unique case, as the Special Category (subclass 444) visa allows them to stay and work indefinitely despite it being a temporary visa (see Figure 2). If they wish to become permanent residents (and eventually Australian citizens), most must apply for a permanent visa in the Migration Program. The New Zealand stream of the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) visa was introduced in 2016 to facilitate the pathway to permanent residence for certain subclass 444 holders, although applicants need to meet requirements including an income threshold. There are calls to broaden the eligibility for this pathway, enabling more New Zealanders to become permanent residents. Observers note this may reduce vulnerabilities for some of those living in Australia and enable them to make a greater contribution to the economy and society, but may come at higher social security costs.